The last few days...

Trip Start Sep 08, 2009
Trip End Nov 24, 2009

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Where I stayed
Triana Backpackers Hostel

Flag of Spain and Canary Islands  , Andalusia,
Saturday, September 19, 2009

It's been a couple days since I’ve written so I’m just going to combine everything into one entry. We’ve done and seen a bunch of things in the last couple days so it’s kind of hard to keep it all straight. Basically, it’s been a great couple of days J After our second day in Lisbon, we stayed in the same hotel room another night. We somewhat befriended the hotel staff so that made our stay even better. We decided to do a day trip to Sintra, which is a really cool palace-y and castle-y town a 45 minute train ride away from Lisbon. When we got out there, we went straight up to the Moorish Castle. It’s from around the 9th century- just a huge castle ruin high up on the hill. It was really cool walking around while imagining what it must have been like to guard a castle like that. You can see all over from up there. It’s hard to imagine a castle so high up ever getting defeated. But I guess it used to happen. When we were hiking around in the castle, we came across an archaeological dig site. There were archaeologists making a big grid with string to mark the exact area they had dug something up a few days earlier. We went by their tent a couple hours later and noticed they had found old ceramic pots and smaller items we couldn’t quit see from a distance.

After we left the Moorish Castle, we walked over to the Pena Gardens. It used to be a private garden area used only by royalty but a couple hundred years ago a prince made it a public area. We went up the hill through the garden for quite some time and finally made it to the Pena Palace- a breathtaking old Moorish palace later used by Spanish royalty. This palace wasn’t a ruin like the castle at all- it has been kept really well and even has fully furnished rooms- complete with the items and furniture the royal family used. We went through the queen and kings’ bed chambers, their private chapel, living rooms, reading rooms, bathrooms, kitchen, etc, etc. It was amazing. Each room had a different theme, from Moorish style to Asian style. Everything in this palace was elaborately decorated. Even the outside of the buildings were amazing- detailed etchings and carvings.

By the time we were done with these sights, it was pretty late in the day. We went back into the cute little main area of town and looked in a few shops before they started closing for the night. We had dinner before taking the train back to Lisbon.

Our original plan had been to take an overnight train from Lisbon to Seville, Spain but our plans changed when we couldn’t book a reservation on the bus that night. So we booked one for the following night and spent another full day in Lisbon. We were happy with it though because we both really love Lisbon. We ended up switching to our hotel’s sister place just around the corner- it was more like a hostel. We stayed there that night then spent the next day wandering around the streets of Lisbon. We finally took one of their old-fashioned trams (we’d been seeing the old style trams everywhere). We caught it in the main part of the old town all the way up by the castle, around, and back down. When it was finally time for us to make our way back to the bus station, we hopped on the metro and headed out to Oriente Station.

Our bus was nice but any time you have to drive for 9 hours in the middle of the night, it doesn’t matter how nice the bus is. A night spent sleeping sitting up in a loud and bright atmosphere makes it a bad one. The driver played movies all night with the sound turned up really loud. I could hear it loud and clear through my ear plugs. We finally got to Seville, Spain at 5:45 in the morning. There was nothing to do that early in the morning but find our hostel and see if they would hold our backpacks for us until it was time to check in. It took us a long time to find our hostel because our directions were wrong. It was weird being in a new city in the dark, still middle of the night. We eventually found the hostel and the guy at the front said we could leave our bags there. We then wandered over to a nearby coffee shop and had coffee and did some city research until the sun was out.

Even though we were tired and delirious, I’m glad we didn’t find somewhere to just crash (like a park) because we ended up walking to the main part of the town (across a big bridge over the river dividing the town into two parts) and seeing everything before the streets were crowded. We went on a self-guided walk (from reading a section of a Rick Steves guidebook) through the Barrio Santa Cruz neighborhood (the old Jewish quarter). We wandered through narrow streets, in and out of courtyards, and by shops and restaurants that weren’t open yet. After our walking tour was over, we went into the big Cathedral. It was time for mass so we didn’t have to pay to get in (which was awesome because normally it’s over 7 euros). This Cathedral is the largest Gothic cathedral in the world. And it’s the 3rd largest cathedral in Europe (1st is St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City and 2nd is St. Paul’s Cathedral in London). We were amazed by all we saw- including Christopher Columbus’ tomb. The best part of it though was seeing and hearing the priests and other people singing hymns and playing the huge organ. It was so beautiful sounding. It was all men singing but they all had beautiful voices.

After leaving the Cathedral, we went over to the Bullfighters’ Museum where we had a guided tour through the museum and the famous Seville bullring itself. It’s one of the most famous bullrings in Spain. Many a bull have been killed there. (Also matadors and horses).

We spent the rest of the day checking into our amazing, old, Spanish-style hostel, getting groceries for dinner, meeting our 4 Polish hostel-mates, and hanging out with them up on our rooftop terrace.

The six of us all slept in the next day, then went our separate way. Andre and I spent a couple hours after breakfast researching train and plane stuff for our upcoming travels. Then we went to see the most famous site of all in Seville- the Alcazar. It’s a Moorish palace also- and the oldest in Spain to still be used by royalty. We did a big tour through the Alcazar and saw the three different wings, plus the giant garden area. It was incredible. Andre was really blown away by it (more so than the palace in Sintra) even though I still like the palace in Sintra better. This palace wasn’t furnished- it was just empty rooms but it was intended to be this way. All the walls and ceilings were so detailed and intricately designed that it was good there was nothing else in the rooms to distract you. We spent a few hours here and even in the maze in the garden. When we came out of the Alcazar at closing time, we saw two wedding parties. The Spanish brides were beautiful. We even saw the same first bride and groom again when we had walked back across the bridge to our hostel- they were in a specially decorated horse-drawn carriage this time.

We had the best Spanish dinner (changing my mind for the better about Spanish food) at some random restaurant by our hostel. Then we came back here, and that’s where we are now- with our Polish hostel mates. Tomorrow we are taking a train 3 hours east to a Spanish town called Granada. Bye!

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